Tom leans against the rail of the fire escape landing, smoking, as the lights come up. He narrates a bit of background on the gentleman caller whom he brought to dinner that next night. In high school, Jim O'Connor was a star in everything he did, the leader of his class and certain to go far. Yet things had not turned out according to Jim's and everyone else's expectations. His job, six years out of high school, was hardly better than Tom's. Tom served a purpose for Jim: he was the only one at the warehouse who knew of Jim's former glory. The two were on friendly terms. Jim called Tom "Shakespeare" due to Tom's habit of writing poems in the warehouse bathroom when work was slow.
The soliloquy is over; the lights come up on a living room transformed by Amanda's efforts over the past twenty-four hours. Amanda is adjusting Laura's new dress. Laura is nervous and uncomfortable with all the fuss that's being made. When Laura is ready, Amanda puts on her own dress and makes a grand entrance. The dress transports her back to the giddy days of her youth in the Delta: the cotillions and balls, the smitten gentlemen callers, and the man she eventually married.
Amanda grows panicky when she learns the name of the gentlemen who's coming for dinner, and more so when the doorbell rings. Amanda is in the kitchen busy with the salmon but Laura is incapable of opening the door. Amanda calls for Laura to get it; Laura desperately begs her mother to open it. Laura at last opens the door, awkwardly greets Jim, and then retreats to the record player. Tom explains to Jim that she is extremely shy.
Jim and Tom talk while the women busy themselves in other rooms. Jim makes a pitch for Tom to take the public speaking course he is taking. He notes that he and Tom were clearly meant for "executive positions." Although, Jim warns, if Tom doesn't wake up he'll soon be out of a job at the warehouse. Tom says he has plans that have nothing to do with public speaking or executive positions. He is going to make a big change. He's sick of living vicariously through the cinema. "People go to the movies instead of moving!" he says. "I'm tired of the movies and I am about to move." He has taken the money meant for this month's light bill and used it to join the Union of Merchant Seamen. His mother knows nothing of this. He sees that he is taking after his father.
Amanda makes her gay appearance, spreading on thick the deep Southern charm and generally knocking Jim's socks off. She praises Laura and calls the girl in so that they can say grace and begin the meal. Laura is pallid and trembling. The weather outside worsens, thunder claps. Laura stumbles and lets out a moan. Seeing that Laura is truly ill, Amanda tells her to rest on the sofa in the living room. Amanda looks nervously at Jim while Tom says grace. Laura, in the living room alone, struggles to contain a sob.